Are you being crushed by the critics?

Lately a common theme has been coming up in our household. This year my husband obtained his dream job that incorporates majority of his strengths: organization, event planning, marketing, creativity, public speaking, sales,  networking, design, planning, and budgeting (he’s pretty amazing, guys). But there is a level of public eye and political involvement as well. Anyone who knows him understands he is a very private person and does not desire to be in the spotlight – but he owns it well. 

In addition, I have been trying to expand my creativity in my photography, branding, and photoshopping. This creative push brings about new moments of insecurity and fear. It’s this dichotomy of truly putting myself out there, raw and open and vulnerable, but also trying not to put its value in the hands of others. Creatives want to be appreciated and understood but not at the cost of our authenticity.  So I stand, alone,  in the wilderness and push away those nagging thoughts: “Will anyone like this?” “What will they say?” “What if it falls flat?  It’s a difficult task to add your own value to something despite what anyone else may say about it. Dare I draw the same parallel with God’s work and his relationship to us as humans: He created it.  He added priceless value to it, no matter what other people say about it. I’ll never be able to please everyone- and if I have pleased everyone then I haven’t been completely honest in my work. Not even your own stomach agrees with the things your mouth likes at times- what’s that phrase? “What is sour to the mouth is sweet to the stomach; what is sweet to the mouth is sour to the stomach. 

All that to say: our common theme as we both work our whole selves into our projects is this: the critics are here and waiting with baited breath to take down our creations. The tongue is described in accurate detail in God’s word: it is as sharp as a razor, breaking the spirit, devising destruction. It cannot be tamed as it is restless and full of poison- including the keyboard critics. There’s something about typing behind a screen that gives people the unveiled permission to lay out their evil and hate without restraint. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for freedom of speech. But there is a difference between freedom of speech and the freedom to attack and destroy.  I appreciate those who are willing to stand up and fight for causes with relentless pursuit -but there are ways to go about this- the legal system, donating time and energy to charities- but keyboard cowards do not add value. 

In contrast, we also have the power to build up and create with our words.  They can heal, create, soothe, comfort, support, and encourage. 

One of my heroes is Brené Brown.  This wouldn’t be a proper blog post without mentioning her, hah! She reminded the world of the famous speech by Teddy Roosevelt, a late hero of mine. This speech is the hinge of her book, Daring Greatly. Besides Teddy’s valor and impressionable mustache, he made an impact on me with his words. I know this was Devine intervention because the first time I read it, I saw it more times that same week during a difficult season: hanging in a lawyers office, Pinterest, my book… it smacked me in the face and I fell more in love with it every time:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

I tell myself and my husband when we face someone who is being critical of our work: is this person in the stands or are they in the arena with us?  If they are in the stands (or behind their computer) their words are of no worth or value to us. We see their preverbal pile of stinking poop on a platter they are trying to present to us, sometimes with smiles on their faces. And we don’t stretch out our arms in acceptance to take the poo platter and bring it inside to stink up our house. We simply say “no thanks- I’m currently not accepting poo platters at this time” and try not to dwell on it. But if this person is in the arena with us- if they are volunteering putting 509 chairs away on a cold night outside at 10pm- or brainstorming I our committee meetings and helping make decisions — or sweeping the streets at 11pm – then they are getting their butts kicked right along with us. They are failing and rising with us. They are rumbling and fighting along side us. Those are the people we need their feedback. Because their view in the arena, through their dust and sweat dripping down their faces, is a much different view from those in the stands. 

The other interesting thing that happens when you join those in the arena- suddenly you can see their faces- dirt and all. You can see that they’ve fallen many times by how dusty they are. Up in the stands they were mere ant-like creatures running around. But now, you’re closer to them. You learn their names. You see their pain and struggles and they become human. Moving in and moving closer to people keeps their humanity real.  You see they are imperfect and struggling, just like you. 

There is a psychological thought experiment called the “trolley problem.” In this theory there is a moral dilemma where you see a runaway trolley with 5 people in it, headed to their demise.  The track divides ahead into two paths. In one direction the trolley will stop because there is a person in the way of the tracks.  This path will kill the one person but save the five.  The other path is a cement wall.  This route will save the one but kill the 5 trolley passengers. You are standing next to the lever that controls whether the trolley continues on its track to kill the one person or allow the trolley to run into the wall.   Do you kill the one person to save five people, allowing the trolley to stop? If you choose the option to kill the one person to save the five people using simply the lever it’s a difficult moral choice but most people would use that option under the utilitarian principle. On the other hand, if you were physically at the train station and you had to push someone onto the tracks to save the five people it would be a much more difficult decision being physically closer to that same person.  The theory implies that the closer we are to people physically and emotionally the more difficult it is for most people to cause harm to that person.  But if you can remain distant, its as if the guilt has less emotional impact.  Thus, it’s much easier to express disgust through text, email, or social media than if you were in person.  And if you were involved in the process/committee/event it’s easier to give the people grace because you see them at work.  You know they’ve been trying their best and can assume good will.  This is why I love Napoleon Hill’s quote: “No one is impressed with the won-lost record of the referee.”

There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.” -Aristotle

There will always be people in the stands, hurling their hatred. But you know deep in your heart if you’re the one in the arena of your life, you are making a difference. You are the value.

So I implore us all: If you see a cause or a need in your community, get involved.  Put on your boots and hat (cuz we’re in Oklahoma y’all) and walk down the stands into the arena.  Get dirty.  Fight along side your community members.  It’s only then you will have a deeper appreciation, richer relationships, and better success over all.  

If you can’t make it into the arena, grab a front row seat in the stands and shout as loud as you can to those in the arena encouraging words, throw roses, snacks, and long distance hugs to them- they need it!


“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up as you are already doing.” 1 Thessalonians‬ ‭5:11‬ ‭HCSB‬‬

“The tongue that heals is a tree of life, but a devious tongue breaks the spirit.” Proverbs 15:4 HCSB

“Like a sharpened razor, your tongue devises destruction, working treachery.” Psalms 52:2 HCSB

“You love any words that destroy, you treacherous tongue!” Psalms 52:4 HCSB

“but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” James 3:8 HCSB

“Life and death are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” Proverbs‬ ‭18:21‬ ‭HCSB‬‬

How Shame Keeps Us From Loving

Something happened in the 7th grade that was pivotal in mapping out the rest of my life. I grew up middle class in the nice part of a smallish town in the Midwest. I moved from a private Christian school to public schools in the 4th grade and was lucky to have made a few friends that made the transition easy. Good thing because a few years later I was an UGLY DUCKILING. The end of the ugly duckling story results in a beautiful swan but sometimes that swan still feels like the frizzy-haired, braces wearing, awkward, insecure, acne-faced, unfeminine giant. I would look at the beautiful, outgoing, popular, skinny girls in my class with admiration and envy. Their skin was clear, their teeth were strait, their hair was Disney princess and they all wore Abercrombie. Their picture perfect families would get together on the weekends, the dads playing golf and the girls painting each others toenails like a Ralph Lauren commercial. The handful of them had gone to school together their whole lives. For two years in a row they cheered together on a community squad for the football team of all the popular boys in the school. Some of the girls were in gymnastics, making them highly valued in the cheering community. And then there was me, trying to find where I fit in. I was a smart and my favorite class was band.

At the end of spring semester were cheerleading tryouts. Despite how much I hated the cliché valley girl persona cheerleaders were associated with I was considering it for a few different reasons. For one, my mom was a cheerleader in high school. She was very different from me. She was outgoing and I was painfully shy. She, too, played the saxophone, and to follow further in her footsteps I,too, became a nurse. I was motivated to compete and do more and be better than my mom. I’m sure Freud would have something to say about it. But I also just really wanted to show those snobby brats they weren’t the only awesomesauce in the school. I wanted to prove to them and myself that I could do it.

So I showed up. I went every day to learn the routine and practiced it at home until it was flawless. The final tryout day was Friday. I felt ok about my performance despite my voice being shaky and nervous.

The results were posted on a piece of paper in the window of the front door at the school later that night. I searched desperately for my ID number on that list. I found it. There it was. I made the squad. Take that snobs.

Then reality set in. I was going to be forced to spend 3 days a week and multiple games, pep rallies, and events with these girls I had little in common with. I ended up making friends with two other girls and we became inseparable through high school. To this day I still think it was an important year of growth and putting myself out there. It gave my self confidence stretch marks and gave me the courage to go after bigger things later in my life.

As part of my conservative Midwest upbringing it was expected that we would attend every church service and event offered. Just like any other Sunday evening we went to church, but this particular day I decided to bring my fundraiser for cheerleading in case any of those giving Christian ladies needed any chocolate or Fancy Christmas wrapping paper. I was not a salesperson so my best tactic was a sweet smile and asking if they had a moment to take a look at my pamphlet. Didn’t always work but that was all my shyness could muster. I made the rounds and then approached my Sunday school teacher. This woman bravely took on the task of teaching hormonal and emotional middle school girls why exactly boys and short skirts are not everything in life. I walked up to her and said “Hi Mrs. J would you like to see what I’m selling for my cheerleading squad?” She didn’t smile much and this was not one of those times. She looked at me and replied, “I don’t support cheerleaders.”

I’m sure my body and face coordinated the visible deflation of shame. I don’t recall if I gave her a dirty look before I walked off but I said “ok” and retreated out of the pews. I was so hurt and not emotionally equipped with handling rejection or shame or oppression based on false stereotypes. Am I something bad? Did I spend so much emotional and physical energy to be something Christians shouldn’t be? Is my mom bad? What is so bad about cheering?

I’ll never forget what happened a few minutes later. A woman who overheard the encounter came up to me and told me to forget what my teacher had said. This was odd because they actually were good friends. She smiled and gently said,

We need disciples in every corner of the world.

Wow I went from shamefully wrong to a called disciple!

I’ve thought about that moment a lot. What would happen in this world if we looked at whomever we deemed as not “Godly enough” and just left them alone to stay in our perfect Christian bubbles?

“You are the light of the world. A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, and it gives light for all who are in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16

So that they may see your good works and give glory to God. Are people won over through oppression and judgement? NO! We are won over through love- good works. Being treated with love, dignity, and respect, especially in the presence of controversial opinions and bias, is what makes undeserving sinners feel worthy. I love Brené Brown’s quote from her book Braving the Wilderness: “It’s hard to hate people from close up; move in.” We are all unworthy of every good thing based on our deeds. But it is not through deeds that we have won the kingdom of God. It was an unmerited gift.

“A creditor had two debtors. One owed 500 denarii, and the other 50. Since they could not pay it back, he graciously forgave them both. So, which of them will love him more? ” Simon answered, “I suppose the one he forgave more.” “You have judged correctly,” He told him.” Luke 7:41-43.

Perhaps those who have experienced oppression, or been shamed for their identity are more likely to extend invitations of belonging to others because they know what it feels like to be rejected for being human. Humility is the birthplace of acceptance. Acknowledging that we are all broken, all struggling, that we all have had to overcome something difficult is what binds our humanity. To deny this is to deny true love for one another. Once we can grasp this concept then follows true empathy, compassion , and mercy.

If we do not go into all the world looking for disciples then who will? We sit at home and pray “God send someone to save the people of the world” but we forget it’s up to us.

“What the world needs now is love, sweet love.”